Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I recently attended a play about two people who were Armenians and who had escaped the ravages of the Turkish Armenian war and the alleged genocide that took place during that war. The alleged genocide was not too different than the results of the continuing genocides that occur on the African continent. Nor for that matter not different from the Stalin genocide of the Ukrainian people. Nor the Jewish genocide; nor the Gypsy genocide; nor the attempt to kill the Polish and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the sexual deviants. Nor was the attempt by the Eugenics movement in the United States in the early 20th century to sterilize all persons who were not free of disease, improper social behavior or low intellectual levels any different. The Supreme Court ruled that forced sterilization of socially unfit persons was legal. Nazi war criminals used the court ruling as a defense.

These events are still fresh in our minds because the offspring of these groups remind us about the horrible events.

The American blacks still remind us of the days of slavery, their grandparents were slaves; the Jews remind us of their slavery in Biblical times; no one today has living relatives of that event.

None of these memories do us any good. They perpetuate the hatred and longing for revenge and in the case of the Blacks demanding remunerations for the years of slavery and the unpaid earnings due them. We now have a museum dedicated to one of the genocides and it selectively emphasizes one aspect of the event. If all the groups who were victims of genocides built a museum detailing their special genocide, the cities would be full of these buildings.

Freud after years of study of persons caught up in disturbed mental conditions came to the conclusion that we all must come to grips with our past and accept what can not be changed and move forward to a more rich and fulfilling life.

Societies must do the same. Understand what was done and vow not to repeat it again and move forward.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The bible relates the story of Judas and his fingering of Christ to the soldiers of Caiaphas in the garden of Gethsemane. Caiaphas then surrenders Christ to the Roman soldiers. The subsequent story of the trial and persecution by crucifixion of Christ is the beginning of the Christian religion.

History is replete with similar stories of spying by countries; double agents in time of war or confrontation. We even have a name for double agents: moles.

Now we have retired military officers who have been the willing conspirators in the war against Saddam and Iraq. Countless numbers of people have suffered because of the war. The United States has lost four thousand soldiers killed, thirty thousand wounded and unknown numbers of soldiers with perhaps permanent psychological problems. We will have to live with the results of this for many years. There is no account of the Iraqi soldiers and civilians who have been killed or maimed or lives ruined forever. Nor is there any account of the displaced families, ruined lives and permanent dislocation of social order. These retired officers were dined and entertained and made information media stars for brief moments, appearing on various news casts and telling a distorted version of the progress of the war. These officers are currently retired from the military with the usual remuneration that allows them to lead a very comfortable life style in addition to be allowed to visit the Pentagon and be kept abreast of the war.

For this action they received some five hundred to one thousand dollars a month and probably social status that comes from appearing on television as an expert.

Judas of course received thirty pieces of silver. I do not know what thirty five pieces of silver would be worth today, but according to what I have read, Judas refused to accept the silver when he learned what he had done. We of course all have our price. I would not settle for what the generals settled for, but maybe I’m just picky. Various versions tell the story that Judas kills himself or is killed by unknown forces or wanders the earth until he dies. Of course we do not know which version is correct, but they all seem to agree that he suffered for his betrayal. I wonder if these officers will feel remorse and return the money, or perhaps give it to the widows or families of our fallen soldiers or to the families of the Iraqis who were killed or forced to leave and become a member of the displaced. I do not think that like Judas, they will kill themselves.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Arlington National Cemetery is dedicated as the final resting place for our fallen heroes. Sometimes the definition of who is a fallen hero is questionable, but all in all the great bulk of graves are occupied by Americans who have in some sense been involved in government activities. Here I include military personnel, both north and south from the civil war and all the other wars since. John F. Kennedy, our late president is buried there along with his brother Robert and many other notables. His grave site is lit by a perpetual flame and all the grave sites are kept neat and tidy by the United States Government. And that is how it should be for our national heroes and soldiers who have given their lives in the cause of war.

My brother died when he was just 6 months old and I was in first or second grade. At that tender age death was a strange and frightening event. Wakes were held at the home and the coffin with the body was there for the two or three days of mourning. Each evening and into the night neighbors came and paid there respects. The neighborhood fathers stayed awake each night for the required vigil; the undertaker providing the necessary chairs. We kids climbed the stairs in the old house and went to bed. There were no lights except the one lonely bare bulb in the downstairs area which served as the kitchen, dining room and living room. The bathroom was also downstairs but none of us woke at night to use it. The coffin was set upon a stand and suitably draped with linen; candelabras were placed at the head of the coffin and the candles lit each evening. On the day of the funeral, we all lined up and kissed the body; strangely cold and waxy. The coffin lid was then lowered and the coffin taken to the hearse. The funeral procession consisted of just two cars, the hearse and one other. The coffin was set on the laps of two of my sisters and I sat between them.

The grave was open and the priest said something, I do not remember much about the ceremony or the cemetery. It was a singular moment and remains fixed in my mind, even though I do not remember all of the events.

In later years, I was to discover that the grave site was tucked away in a remote corner of the cemetery and had been donated by the church. A sort of paupers’ grave, not readily saleable, set under a large oak tree and carved out among the gnarly roots and never marked in any way. I always wanted to buy a nice grave site and have him buried there. When my parents died, an adjoining grave site was available and living far way from the town where the cemetery was I asked one of my sisters to talk to the church officials and ask to have the body exhumed and reburied in a more fitting grave next to my parents. I told her to emphasis that I was willing to pay for the effort.

However, she reported that the priest who managed the cemetery was adamant that it was not worth the money to exhume a body that was buried so long.

Like all of us I have regrets and one of them is that I did not pursue the issue further. Maybe the priest did not want to be bothered with the effort; maybe he did not understand souls; maybe he did not understand the idea of burial sites as special; or maybe there never was a burial site.

I do not begrudge the people whose final resting place is Arlington. As a veteran I am entitled to be buried there, space permitting. A National cemetery is now available for veterans in Florida. Everyone should have a decent burial plot or some final remembrance of their lives. And so should have my brother.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I read somewhere that during the Renaissance an Italian prince was on a balcony several stories high overlooking the town square with the pope and the local ruler. He wrote later that he was sorry he had missed the opportunity to push both of them off the balcony to their death and so be remembered forever in history. The desire to achieve immortality is ingrained in our psyche. The fear of death so overwhelms us that we want to live forever if only in written words or pictures. Princes, Popes and rulers of all sorts want to leave behind a legacy that will live forever. Think of Caesar, of Lincoln, of FDR and of Wilson who are remembered with kindness. On the other side we have Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Khan

The current administration is preoccupied with their legacy as have all the Presidents in recent history. The vision of a monument, a library, riding a horse in battle and memorable speeches all enhance the dream.

Mostly a legacy is associated with wars or times of great social upheavals. Think of FDR and the great depression and then WWII. He wins on two accounts. So does Lincoln for saving the union and for freeing the slaves; Wilson for saving the world for Democracy; Teddy Roosevelt for San Juan Hill.

Our current president would like to be remembered for establishing a democracy in the Middle East: a flame of freedom that would ignite and spread to the whole of the Middle East. Of course we have a freedom flame there, the supposed Democracy in Israel which has set the region aflame, but not in the way intended. But regardless of facts, ideologies are forever true.

Legacies are most admirable when they are acquired without being the basic aim of the individual. For instant Shakespeare probably did not think he was creating a legacy when he wrote his plays. He probably thought he was making money and prospering on the popularity of his plays at the Stratford theatre.

Kings and Queens on the other hand did things to be remembered for. And now our presidents do the same. Most often the plans they had failed but the devastation lives on. And for that they are remembered. Think of the Third Reich, or the Socialist Revolution in Russia or the great march in China.

Certain wealthy individuals establish foundations to help humanitarian causes and keep the tax man at bay, and their name is usually the name of the foundation. Doing great things to establish a legacy is certainly a way to achieve immortality. If it can be done without human sacrifice it is commendable.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I grew up in a village of mixed ethnic backgrounds. There were Russians, Poles, Italians, Irish, Scots, English, Greek and others. As kids we joked about the various groups. Pat and Mike jokes were the rage at one time. Italian jokes were very popular. Polish jokes did not occur until later, perhaps because most of us were either of Polish decent or Slavic which was very close. Black jokes were sometimes rather cruel, but so were Pat and Mike and Polish jokes. Maybe it was the way they were told that made them more offensive.

Jewish jokes and Black jokes were never told except in a very derogative manner. And they were told in a way that suggested that the jokes were probably true. The Pat and Mike jokes were jokes of sheer stupidity and so no one really believed that a people could be so dumb. So of course were the Polish jokes as were the Italian jokes and the Greek jokes. The advent of the pizza pie and the spaghetti sauce were probably the end of the Italian jokes. Spaghetti sauce became almost a mystical ritual. Women passed recipes around and sauce was simmered beginning after breakfast and continuing until dinner time. The sauce became almost a solidified mass, but no one would suggest that it was too thick. That would be gross. Polish stuffed cabbage and perogi and Irish stew and corned beef became part of the culture. These items are now acceptable restaurant fare. The jokes went away.

But some cultures did not assimilate. They are, or pretended to be, offended by jokes except when they themselves tell the jokes, jokes that have a different ring. Jews stayed in their ghettos, and the blacks congregated in their own ghettos. The jokes never went away. They just stayed on the back burner. They are told to non Jewish or non Black people. Sadly, recently a joke about black food habits told in jest at a PGA event led to the person telling the joke losing his contract with a chain store. It is difficult to find a black restaurant, or for that matter a Jewish restaurant outside the ghettos. The ethnic groups that fought jokes never did assimilate into the American dream as the Irish, Poles, Italians, Greeks and others did.

Now we have religious groups who not only do not accept joke telling but resort to violence. Jokes take the edge off cultural differences. It is a way of making light of our pomposity or silliness or considering ourselv pomposity or silliness or considering ourselves as special. Sad, but it is hard to evaluate the impact the joke has had as a means of assimilating a culture.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dogs Tail

I always remember the old story about the elderly woman who when she noticed that her friends’ dog had its tail cut off (docking its called) asked her friend how it was done. Well, the friend replied: the Vet just cut the tail off and stitched up the cut and that was it. My God, the woman opined, that was cruel to cut it all off at once, wouldn’t it have been kinder if they had done it a little at a time.

The story reminds me of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We assume that troop withdrawal a little at a time will be less painful then just docking. Yet all the evidence from Vietnam points the other way. There we just left and eventually the country was united and free and is now one of our friends and we trade with them. The soldiers who fought in the war go back and visit. Both old Saigon and Hanoi are tourist spots frequented by Americans and the rest of the world. Their shrimp is sold here by the tons at a price we can not match.

Freud had it figured out for his miraculous cures: you had to face the devils that haunt you and either overcome them or accept them. And it is still true today. The world has to face the fact that dreadful as it may have been, the way to Vietnams’ peace was to go through the horror of coming together. No one can pave the way for you; the facts must be faced squarely and accepted or else they lie in waiting to torment you forever.

We were wrong in Vietnam and we were and are wrong in Iraq and now even Afghanistan. Facing the Vietnam situation will allow us to accept the withdrawal from Iraq.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I often wonder about determination or as it is sometimes called: stubbornness. Often we hear of people running for public office who only want to serve their country. We are currently hearing that idea from a man who served in the Vietnam War and was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese and subjected to cruelty and psychological warfare during five of those years. He is now considered a hero for his service during war; though his ‘cell mates’ some of whom actually were in prison longer are not so honored. Though he has lost some of his physical mobility and use of his arm from a crash landing he maintains a positive outlook on life by wanting to continue to serve his country. Because his father and grandfather were naval admirals he received medical care above what would have been normally provided.

There are many examples of this type of behavior: Senators who have lost legs or the use of an arm and who run for public office on the basis of their service. Perhaps I am naïve, or do not understand the desire to serve. I would be more inclined to say that I have served enough for my country. However if some energetic PR person contacted me and promised or at least implied that I could get to be a Senator or Congressman based on my war years and if I had the ability to speak reasonably intelligently before an audience I might be persuaded to try. My chances would be improved if I had some infirmity to show the constituency and be greatly enhanced if I could be considered a war hero. People just love heroes; real ones or make believe ones. Like the Indian Ira Hays who the war department promoted as a hero planting the American flag on Iwo Jima even though he did not think he was a hero. He was taken around the country on war bond drives and emotionally ruined.

In the movie ‘Patton’ there is a scene where the general is shown alone on a large stage with an American flag as a backdrop giving a speech to his troops who are not actually visible. It is a rousing speech. General Patton is considered by history as one of our finest generals. Old blood and guts he was called. Or as the troops said: his guts and our blood. Patton went on to say that he did not want any of his troops to be heroes and die for their country; he wanted them to make the other SOB a hero and die for his country. So much for heroes.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Us against Them

I was having a discussion with a nice senior woman about heart problems and bypass surgery. We old folk do like to discuss ailments. As would be expected the cost of the procedure came up and we discussed the general increase in prices and cost of medical care and we were thankful for Medicare. I of course mentioned that I was in the wrong profession: I should have been a surgeon. She related a story about how one of her grand children was attending college and her costs had gone up considerably and the availability of loans and grants were diminishing. She then remarked that they were not providing the funds for her grandchild. They were not granting loans or giving grants that they were giving the previous year. I remarked that when she talks about them, she means her neighbors and the people across the street. There was a moment of awkward silence and then she remarked: I never looked at it that way.

I always wonder what politicians mean when they say they are going to Washington or Tallahassee or wherever and will fight for ‘you’. Who are they going to fight? The school grants come from the government. The cost of heart bypass surgery comes from the government. It all comes from the government. But where does the government get its money. Why it gets it from us. To be correct, it steals it from us in the form of taxes and then it doles out the taxes to whomever it deems most profitable to the politicians. Profitable means getting reelected. But we pay all the bills. I send my money to them, they take what they need to support their lavish lifestyle and then send the rest to the people who support them. So when the politicians, stumping for election, say they are going to fight for us, they really mean they are going to fight us for more tax money, so they can give more money to themselves and to us.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Potato Growing

Social welfare is a relatively new phenomenon, beginning in America with the great depression and continuing until now. It was a takeoff of the German system started by Bismark: That is governmental welfare. There has always been religious or just altruistic welfare probably before biblical times. The three great religions of the Book all encourage welfare and help for the poor. But now the trend has been to let the government take over the role.

When I was about twelve years old we moved to a different house in the village. The house we were living in was scheduled to be demolished for reasons, I never knew. It was an exciting time, to be moving. My older brother was out of high school and drove a truck for a local coal operator and we used the truck for moving. The new house was a multi family building and we had one of the four apartments. The previous occupants had a nice garden that was neatly fenced in and fairly large. My parents were from Poland and were farm people. But we never planted anything or used the garden at all. I decided one spring to dig up the ground and plant a garden. My mother told me about cutting the potatoes into small pieces being careful to make sure that an eye was in each piece. The ground had been left fallow for many years and was difficult to dig. We had no special tools, except shovels for shoveling coal. They had no sharp points. I worked hard, thinking in the fall I would have a huge bumper crop of potatoes. I made rows as best I could and planted the potato ‘seeds’ in deep holes and waited. I watered the garden as often as I could. Some plants appeared in several weeks, but none were hearty looking. None ever blossomed and the crop looked like it was going to be a disaster. My father said I had forgotten to fertilize and by that he meant animal waste. I had no way to get any fertilizer. Fertilizer was not something you could get easily from the hardware store. I was amazed that neighbors nearby had lush plants and ripe red tomatoes and other vegetables. Mrs. Platz had lush plants. She had a cow and daily she took the cow to an area in the village where grass grew and allowed the cow to pasture there. You could predict the time of day just by seeing her bring the cow home, waiting to cross the road. My father said she had manure that I could take. But her house and small shed to house the cow was probably a half mile from my garden and we had no truck or even a wheelbarrow. My father did not offer to help. Just go there and ask for manure he said. And my mother was too busy with all of us to get involved in the garden. My plans of growing potatoes until the basement was full to overflowing and we could eat for the winter gradually died along with the plants that never grew beyond the first stage. My first taste of farming was a disaster. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Gleaning is the traditional Biblical practice of gathering crops that would otherwise be left in the fields to rot or be plowed under after harvest for the benefit of the poor. Also some growers would allow gleaners to pick what was left after harvest to donate to those who are needy. When I was growing up, gleaning was practiced by most of the people who lived in the village. Coal was stripped mined by large power shovels and when the coal was loaded into the trucks that took the coal to the processing plant, some of it spilled over the side. We kids and parents gathered the lumps of coal and moved them to a pile that we kept until it was enough to fill a wagon, or wheelbarrow. The same method was used at the slag dump, where slag from the plant was taken to the slag dump in side dumping cars. After the cars were unloaded, we searched through the slag and gathered any lumps of coal that were left in the slag and moved it to a safe area for taking home. Generally the company did not object to the practice except when in an attempt to be the first ones, we ran in when the truck was not completely full and there was a danger that we could get hurt from falling coal. We used the coal for home heating and cooking, the kitchen stove was a coal fired stove and burned all year, even during the hot summer months. Often when the small railroad that as used to carry the coal cars from the deep mines to the processing plant slowed at the slight grade behind our house, we pulled lumps of coal from the cars as they went by. The engineers chased us away, but they almost never put the coal back on the cars. When I was in high school several friends and I opened a small mine in an area that had been strip mined. The vein of coal was nice and we spent the summer mining and selling it to a local breaker (a small processing plant). We got Dynamite from the store in town purchased by the miners who were mining near by. Coal mining was hard work, but I even made enough to buy some clothes. When the summer was nearing an end and school about to start, we made plans to skip school on Friday and work in the mine Friday and Saturday to earn some spending money. However the local coal and mining company who owned the land had other plans. When they found out about us they sent some miners and dynamited the mine shut. Perhaps we stretched the definition of gleaning somewhat. But the coal was never mined by the large company that owned the land. The coal that was left behind, pillars to hold up the roof while taking equipment out was not economical to mine. Perhaps it was terminated because the managers were fearful of our lives. Mining coal in veins that were mined years earlier had frequent cave-ins since the pillars were weakened by time. That summer I learned that sometimes even the best plans fail and gleaning was not always a profitable venture.

Friday, October 15, 2010


The late U S Senator Daniel P. Moynihan remarked in 1993 that we were defining deviancy downward. But all things considered, we are a much freer and less deviant culture than we once were if we define deviancy as abnormal behavior. Contrary to Moynihan, we are not slipping into a moral morass from which we will never recover. One only has to consider how far we have come from stoning women for adultery as is the recommended punishment according to the bible.

In more recent times the blacks in our country were considered less than second class citizens. It was only with the passage of the civil rights act that they were given first class status. Women were not allowed to vote until 1920 when the constitution was finally amended. Women were sterilized in the United States as late as 1979 in the state of Virginia under authority of the United States Supreme court. Men of course were similarly fixed, but not to the same degree. Strange that the thought of sterilizing men was apparently never considered as seriously as for women. Divorce is now routinely allowed with just the consent of the parties. Previously, women especially, suffered in silence in unhealthy relationships because they were not allowed to divorce except by proving to a court there was infidelity or brutality of some kind. Divorce was not a good option for women because job opportunities were routinely denied to them in such professions as medicine, especially surgery, dentistry, law and they were denied mortgages and scorned if they had children out of wedlock. Women spent their lives as spinsters if not married, or divorced, unable to secure work except as school teachers or nurses. Witches were burned at the stake, but never warlocks.

Abortions were hidden, women forced by social convention to leave home and spend months in homes for wayward mothers usually giving up the child for adoption. Though even today, our wonderful Congress still would like to punish women who become pregnant by refusing to allow abortions. Congress and the administration would like to define who can get married, what research can be done with stem cells. Not too long ago the government decided on what we could drink and now they define what drugs we can consume. I needn’t cite other examples, the list goes on, and today in some countries these very same conditions and some even worse exist today, and we decry the fact that they exist, forgetting we supported them once. A great book like the bible which has spun at least three great religions allows us to stone women to death who have committed the sin of adultery. Who but Senator Moynihan and administrations such as we have now, want to go back to the old days? Thank God we have become a more tolerant society. Moynihan was right, we have not only defined deviancy downward but have gotten rid of a lot of it. Sure, there are problems with freedom, but on balance it has been good for us and for our children. They meet each other more openly and are more tolerant to diversity.

Friday, October 8, 2010


During the nineteen thirties and forties, when I was growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania, mules were used in the anthracite mines. They were kept in the mines in what was the equivalent of a barn, carved out of the coal and stone, except this barn was cold, damp and dark with water constantly dripping. Food for the mules was stored in the mine and re supplied as needed. The mules were used to pull the coal cars from the gangways where the coal was mined to the area where the cars were joined together like a train and pulled up to the surface where they were unloaded into railroad cars and transported to the colliery for processing. The mules provided a great service; coal could not be mined at the volume that was needed for human comfort without the mules except by using men as mules for moving the coal cars.

My father was at one time a mule driver. He said he kept a large nail in his pocket to jab the hind quarters of the mule if it became stubborn or unruly. Accidents were infrequent, but mules were known to kick the driver or to push him against the side of the tunnel.

The work in the mines was divided into three shifts, the first two shifts devoted to mining coal and the third shift used for timbering and general cleanup and repair. The mules rested in the dark barns during the third shift; there were no coal cars to pull.

As time progressed, the mines were electrified and the work the mules did was replaced by motorized cars. The dark tunnels were now lit continuously rather than only by the light from a miners’ carbide lamp. Now the miners wore electric lights on their hard hats. They were powered by a large battery pack strapped to their belts. When my father worked the second shift and we had a car, I often went to the mine portal to drive him home and take the battery pack to the mine office where all the other batteries were charged for the next morning shift.

As the mules were gradually replaced they were brought up to the surface where they were kept in a barn with an enclosed yard. They were then sent somewhere, perhaps to dog meat factories. They were kept in the barn for a time since they were blinded by the sunlight after having been kept in the dark mine for years and needed time to regain their sight.

When a new batch of mules was brought up, we kids would go to the barn and straddling the fence throw stones at the helpless animals who did not know what was going on. We kids did not know what the mules did, except that they worked in the mines. They brayed and kicked and ran into one another trying to get away from the stones. We kids thought it was great fun.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Cannabis is a plant. Not too different from most other plants. It has it good points and its bad points. The father of our country George Washington praised the plant. "Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!" he is reputed to have said.

The most resourceful crop on earth, cannabis yields industrial hemp for canvas, oil, fiber, and paper among other things; a harmless medicine for gravely ill individuals; and a source of recreation for millions of people around the world. Hemp is one of the faster growing biomass known, producing up to 25 tons of dry matter per hectare per year, and one of the earliest domesticated plants known. For a crop, hemp is very environmentally friendly; it requires few pesticides and no herbicides.

The federal government, God bless them, has decreed that cannabis is a danger to society and against the law to grow. The current paradigm is that cannabis is a health risk for the average citizen. The plant’s flower, after drying and rolled into a cigarette form, much like tobacco, can be smoked. The government deems it to cause great harm to the person who inhales the smoke. So it belongs on the list of dangerous substances right up there with cocaine, heroin and opium. Of course we know the cannabis flower as marijuana.

Both the user and seller can be and often are subjected to prosecution and in a great many instances sentenced to jail. In fact the majority of inmates of our prisons are there for marijuana related crimes sometimes as innocent as having possession of the flower.

However the list of poisonous plants is quite lengthy. Even the seeds of the ubiquitous apple are poisonous if consumed in sufficient quantities. Not to mention the caster beans which are very poisonous and can be fatal to children? But only the lowly cannabis is singled out for burning and destruction and not the others. Ordinary tobacco plants are not only allowed but the government via the agricultural department provides help in its cultivation. While it is accepted that tobacco does not act as a sedative and produce a feeling somewhat related to alcohol use as cannabis does habitual smokers would say otherwise.

Perhaps it is simply because like opium its effect is pleasant and enjoyable.

Early governments in the USA were often the product of the religious community and anxious to make laws to prevent the population from engaging in sin which often as not was related to joyful enterprises. The early Calvinists in New England forbid dancing; singing and even celebrating Christmas; only work and bible reading were condoned. Some vestiges of this mentality have stayed with us until even today. When people are having fun make them stop. I remember when I was a child there was a saying that if you laughed too much it was a sign that some bad thing was about to happen to you. How often are police called when the local tavern or watering hole patrons are singing and dancing and the noise, cheerful and loud disturbs the locals?

Not only do we not allow cannabis growth in the USA but we prohibit it other countries as well. I often wonder why we never had a campaign to burn all the grain fields in Scotland during prohibition since the grain could be used for alcohol production. Perhaps because Mr. Kennedy had secured the exclusive rights to import scotch whiskey?

Of course we do burn fields of opium and marijuana in places like Afghanistan, Columbia and other South American countries today. I am forbidden here in Florida to grow cannabis even though I have no intention of smoking it. But I can grow as many caster bean plants as I choose. It’s okay to grow something that may kill you or your pet or your grandchildren; that will teach them a lesson, but nothing that may, if smoked, make you feel wonderful. I’m sure that if a less pleasant way was invented to procreate the early Calvinists would have prohibited sex.

Monday, September 27, 2010


There was and may still be an ad that played on TV several years ago. It was about a sales manager hyping up the sale staff to sell a bad product. Put some lipstick on this pig he admonishes them. It was not actually to be taken literally; it was a way to dress up the product and make it look good. In the specific case it was stocks, but it applies to all products and actions.

The thought that somewhere someone actually said such a thing is disconcerting. However I am reminded of the ad each electoral season. People like Newt Gingrich, G. W. Bush, B. Clinton, L. B. J and J. McCain, among others are immediately brought to mind. I have been voting for lo these many years and each time the candidate is shown in a larger-than-life size on the television, in the papers and even on the radio dressed properly and prepped with just the right things to say. It is only after they have either lost the election or been elected and served their terms that we discover they were no more imaginative or smarter than we are. Somehow they are portrayed by the media as super human people and we, the great unwashed believe them. There is something in the human psyche that allows us to accept an image of a person that is beyond reality; maybe it is the lipstick. Who can believe that Jimmy Carter or G. W. Bush or Clinton or G H.W. Bush or Nixon or Regan or Jack Kennedy or even today Obama were the anointed ones. Now that Obama is involved in solving our collective problems, he appears to be less of a superman. G. Ford was never was one of the bigger-than-life persons. They would never trip over their feet in public. He of course never ran for office of the president; he was appointed to fill Nixon’s remaining term; he never had to be polished and sold. Reagan was by far a never failing God figure. He was a consummate actor and never gave up playing the role; he knew all his lines and could say them in the right tone; he was always on camera.

Somewhere behind the scenery there are makeup artists, speech writers, policy wonks, dressing coordinators, etc. who create the image that we see much like the image of actors who on stage play their parts well. We of course vote for the image, the role player and not the flesh and blood real person who emerges when the play is over. The wizard of OZ comes to mind when much to the dismay of Dorothy and her friends the wizard is revealed as just a fake; one of us as the curtain falls away and the mask is gone. The Greeks had it right when they used masks in their plays. The audience did not confuse the role played and the real person behind the mask. Their lipstick was obvious; ours, much to our dismay, is cleverly hidden.

Monday, September 20, 2010


I just love Ronnie. It must be the same way we remember Lincoln: History as narrative; Must fit the current paradigm. Make heroes when we need them. There are so few. We all know Lincoln must have had the slavery issue in mind when he started the Civil War. Otherwise why would he want to get all those hundreds of thousands of soldiers killed and maimed when some good heart to heart talks may have saved the day? Or what is wrong with two or three countries where we now have one big behemoth that is unmanageable? But who wants to manage a minor league team when you are already in the majors? What do New Yorkers have in common with citizens of New Mexico anyway? Slavery was dying around the world but not because it is morally bad but because it is not economically sound. Even corporations in Japan had to finally give up on guaranteed jobs to its workers; not economically sound. Only unions still hold the false belief that jobs are to be saved no matter what the cost.

Ronnie left a trail of disasters, not as bad or as big as Abe’s but still bad. His stewardship of California started it on the road to its current financial woes much as his stewardship of the USA started it on the road to probable bankruptcy or at least financial turmoil. Nowhere did he stop the growth of government; not in California nor on the bigger and better federal stage. A biting of the bullet then and perhaps no endless deficits.

Great events are sometimes started by one small step: a gunshot in Sarajevo and WW1; get used to spending a handful of billions you don’t have and deficits forever. Leaders who followed him, notably Cheney, chanted the mantra that Ronnie showed that deficits do not matter. The state grew; the federal government grew; the military ballooned; the embarrassments of Grenada, the Beirut bombings and Iran Contra are never mentioned in polite company. Only the tax cuts. TV talks from the Oval Office about the tax cuts with the ubiquitous jar of jelly beans on display on the desk. That they were actually tax increases is never mentioned. I felt it. No longer could I buy property and write it off as a business loss on my tax form. No. Now I had to send the money to Ronnie to spend on star wars. He must have liked the stuff of comic books and movies having spent his life playing in B grade movies: earth and space based laser battle stations, magnetic guns firing large slabs of steel as bullets, etc. Every kid under the age of 13 was enthralled with the possibilities. Hiding in a bunker in Utah and remotely firing lasers at approaching enemy missiles. Portent of computer games warfare such as the drones we have now in Afghanistan. Never mind that none of them ever worked because of cost and lack of know how. But with that comic book threat we all believe that Ronnie killed the Great Russian Empire. Never mind that it’s Social and economic systems were deteriorating faster than the steel bullets and it was only a matter of time before it died. Ask Gorbachev who killed it? Ask the Romans or the Brits what killed their empires. Of course when he retired we found out he was well on the road to becoming a victim of Alzheimer’s. Never did remember signing the okay for Iran Contra. What movie was that in? He left quietly and flew to Japan, probably on my nickel, delivered two speeches written by who knows and delivered in just one take, probably a first for his movie acting career; received his fee of $2,000,000 and returned. Nancy must have needed the money. They returned triumphant and wealthy to California, the scene of his early crime. Never to be heard from again. Don’t criminals always return to the scene of their crime? And when he died he received the same accolades as Lincoln and FDR directed by Nancy and the pages of details to be carried out she and Ronnie crafted about a god’s burial. But now with modern transportation we could fly him around the USA. No need for a flag draped Lincoln train ride so all the great unwashed could see him; they could come to Washington and wait in line to see the remains.

Nancy, who could not live without Ronnie, still survives. We all finally get accustomed to losing Gods.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

THINGS I SHOULDN’T THINK OF: Essays and Other Ruminations


Other Ruminations
(short stories and poems)

John E. Fedako

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Confession is good for the soul. Freudian psychology is replete with instances of patients recovering when they confront or at least relive deeds that they considered disturbing. Through confession, the church emphasizes that same dogma.
The Catholic Church accepts children into the church at an early age, usually seven years old or so. They call the ritual first holy communion. All children are instructed in the church laws and the teachings of the church. As a final ceremony, the children go to confession and then have communion. It is an awe inspiring event. Girls wear white dresses and veils as though they were brides, boys wear white suits.

For my first holy communion, my pants and jacket were used suits that had been passed around the neighborhood; the pants and the jacket were a little yellow from years of wear.

After the ceremony, we all were herded down to the basement of the Irish church and treated to a breakfast. Communion must be taken on an empty stomach. The breakfast consisted of cereal with spoonfuls of sugar scattered over the cereal and then milk poured over the mixture. It was inedible for a Polish youngster like me who would have preferred pickles and boloney. The nuns were concerned when I did not eat the cereal, but the cut up banana, a luxury item for me, was good and I ate that, assuring the nuns that I was not ill. I’m sure they were more afraid that I might throw up.

Confession was strange. I made a list of some sins from the ones the nuns talked about at Catechism school being careful to add a mortal sin in with a mix of some venial sins. The confessional is awesome. People line up waiting for their turn, rosary beads held in their hands, lips moving but no words spoken, footsteps on the hard floor and an occasion nervous cough the only sounds. You enter the confessional and kneel down waiting until the priest opens the panel between you and him. He is just barely discernible behind the screen. You confess your sins and are given your penance and it’s over, except for the penance, usually a list of prayers to recite, done in one of the pews. ‘Hail Mary’s’ and ‘Our Fathers’ were recited by the thousands quietly on Saturday afternoons with the light coming through the stained glass windows and the quiet broken by the occasional rattle of rosary beads. The church was somehow pleasant and calming, cool even in the hot summer.

One of my friends who is a Russian Orthodox says when he goes to confession, you kneel down in front of the priest and he covers your head with his robe and you tell him your sins. I told him I liked it better when the priest did not see you. Of course it was only later in life that I discovered that the priest has a full view of the confessor.

Frankie went to church most Sundays, his family was very religious. I did not go often; in fact I went very seldom. My mother never went to church; my father preferred to go to the Polish church several miles away and only seldom and reluctantly to the Irish Church. I asked Frankie about confession. Frankie said that he just says the same confession each week or whenever he goes. He said it simplifies things. I did not like his method.

Confession loses its power when it is routine. Like praying, it should be done in a contemplative mode and not by rote. And as Freud discovered it does well when it is done in honesty.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Moments in Time

It must have been nineteen thirty nine or nineteen forty
Just behind Gretz's house
Behind their fence and the old oak tree
How I heard of such an offer
And where I ever got the ten cents
I'll never know, memory fails me now
But somehow I got the money and sent for it
‘Allow two weeks for delivery’ the ad said
I remember the wait as a million years
The postmaster just shook his head each day
When I asked if the package was there
And then one glorious day it arrived
I unpacked it carefully
Just behind Gretz's house
Behind their fence and the old oak tree
The one with the great rotted hole in the bottom
I unwrapped it ever so gently and lifted it out
There it was in all its glory
It was all the ad said it would be
And it fit just right after some adjustments
And nothing, nothing since that day
Behind Gretz's house
Behind their fence and the old oak tree
On that warm summer afternoon,
Has anything been as grand and glorious
As that secret decoder ring
God! How I miss that ring

Monday, May 31, 2010


I am always fascinated by the sheer number of churches. Not the number of physical buildings, but the number of denominations. In the protestant community alone there are Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, Quakers, United Church of Christ, etc, all considering themselves Protestants. The Catholics are not as numerous but they have: Dominicans, Jesuits, Franciscans, Monks, Nuns of various persuasions and the Eastern rite, etc. all considered Catholics. In addition there are the Jewish sects, reformed, conservative, etc. And of course there are the Muslims.

All these groups use the same book to preach from. All base their beliefs on the word as written in the Bible. They are the people of the book.

The bible is a long narrative beginning with the creation myth of the world and consisting of many books. All of the books are recorded sayings of ancient people. Not a word is current history. The Christians begin about the last third of the life of the world, which according to the bible is six thousand years old. The Muslims began about fourteen hundred years ago, while Judaism began at the beginning, six thousand years ago. The sheer number of denominations of religion to base their beliefs on the word as recorded in the bible is astounding. No one who wrote the New Testament was alive when the events took place. We, in modern day America have a difficult time agreeing on the events that occurred in the Clinton presidency and we have videos, spoken words, letters, commentators who are still alive when the events took place. The inconsistencies of the bible are many. The various groups merely accept the parts they deem more correct and adhere to them. The variety of religious interpretation lies in the vagueness and contradictions of the bible which owes a lot to the fact that it was recorded from spoken words. It is always difficult to write down precisely what someone meant. I think the problem is that humans, being what they are, are always ready to create uniqueness. Us versus them. The religious sects have used selections of the bible as bricks and mortar to create a religion that they and only they think is correct, except for the resurrection which all Christian religions accept. Religion is a human creation. The bible is a collection of sometimes very good advice written by, we suspect, respected members of the village, but as for stoning women, just maybe they got it wrong.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Like all kids we were fascinated by lightning bugs. We caught them at dusk and in the dark summer evenings in the small village where I lived. They loved elderberry bushes and we searched around the bushes for them. We held them in our hand and waited until they glowed and quickly, while they were lit, squashed them on our shirts trying to spell our name in fluorescence. Kids do strange things.

Butterflies were also around, but they were special. We only caught them on occasion being careful not to touch their wings or remove the powdery material from the wings. For some reason we were certain that touching the wings would remove the powder and prevent them from ever flying again.

I lived in a coal mining village, not too different from other coal mining villages in Kentucky or West Virginia. Most of our parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe or the older offspring of the immigrants. We were all poor; some poorer than others, but all poor. The school we attended was the pet project of the man that owned the houses where we lived and he paid for the teachers and books and all school supplies.

The company store was the lifeline for us. It held the post office, the shoe store, the clothing store, the hardware store and all owned by the same man. Even though the mines that he had operated were now depleted and no one worked for him, he still owned some of the buildings and the processing plant for the coal mined from other mines. He was very wealthy and lived in a wonderful house in an area that we were only allowed to visit on special occasions, such as Christmas.

Most of us spoke another language at home, but at school only English was allowed.
I always remember Poor Anne S. who could only speak Russian and was sent home from first grade until she learned enough English to be allowed to return.

And for several winters we all received cod liver oil doses at school, provided by the man that owned the houses. We all lined up and the teacher used an eye dropper to deposit foul tasting cod liver oil on our tongue and made sure we swallowed before letting us go.

Work in the mines was hard and dirty. Often it was dangerous and cave-ins were not unusual. Men died in the mines or were disabled. My fathers’ hands had patches of dark blue from the small coal particles that had permanently remained under the skin from accidents.

We went to high school at a neighboring township; we only had a grade school.

Coal gradually was replaced with oil for home heating in the cities that served as the market for coal. Work at the mines was gradually disappearing, so when I graduated high school the Korean War was starting and I enlisted in the Air Force and left the village. After I was discharged, I used the GI bill which provided me with the necessary funds to go to college. I never returned, except for a brief stay while attending college and visits.

Butterflies undergo a metamorphism in the cocoon stage. I’m sure most zoologists can describe the mechanism of how it all works. I find it one of the most fascinating works of nature.

Most of us who grew up in the village must have had our wings touched and the powder removed. Some of us however did not and we escaped, flying to other worlds.

Monday, May 17, 2010


As I recall from my early days’ of studying Catechism, required by the church before confirmation, the vows of poverty are one of the fundamental vows of the Catholic clergy. Priests take these vows before ordination, and nuns also live a life of poverty. The definition of poverty is different according to who writes the definition. When I was growing up we were poor; poverty would probably also be an accepted description.

After high school, I joined the Air Force for four years during the Korean conflict. Because of the largess of the government the World War II GI bill was reinstated and I went on to college.

Money was scarce and I attended the local center of the University and lived at home. My brother loaned me his car when it was my week to drive the car pool and after two years, I moved to the main campus.

I was from a large family and one of my sisters had a child when I was attending college. She asked me to be the God Father for the child, which I readily agreed to.
Baptisms are one of the sacraments of the church and performed by a priest as one of his duties. On the appointed day, a pleasant Saturday, we all went to church along with several other families who were also baptizing a child. The priest arrived only after all of the families had gathered. It is permissible for the priest to be discreetly late.

During the baptism, I took a vow that I would aid in bringing up the child in the ways of the Church should it be needed. As the God Father, I was the designated person to go to the church office to get the baptism certificate.

My sister mentioned that as a gesture of kindness, a small donation to the priest would be appropriate. Priests are allowed to accept a monetary gift for performing the baptism. She suggested a dollar or two would be appropriate. I waited in line along with the other God Fathers, two one dollar bills held firmly in my hand. When it was my turn I mentioned the name and the priest dutifully signed the papers and putting them into an envelope, handed it to me with the admonition that the usual donation was five dollars. Five dollars was at that time a fairly large sum of money for me. I fumbled around and finally retrieved a five dollar bill and put it on the desk. The priest did not even say thank you or look up at me. ‘Next’ was all he said. Afterward, I casually asked the other God Fathers and they all had given at least five dollars. That was a long time ago and I did not have to help in the upbringing of my god child, except for an occasional birthday gift. My vow was never tested. I still regret my decision of going along with the crowd. At such a wonderful occasion, a vow of poverty, like all vows, should have been honored.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Seventh Grade

I often wonder what would have happened if the fight I had with Billy O’Brien would have been allowed to finish. Some older guys stopped the fight before it was over. But that was a long time ago. Seventh grade has come and gone and that’s all I really remember about seventh grade. Time went on; Billy and I became good friends during high school. Neither he nor I ever mentioned the aborted fight, except in a joking way. And after high school I enlisted in the Air Force and Billy stayed around. I never saw him again except at a twenty fifth class reunion. I had gone to college and was living away and came back for the reunion. It was not a memorable event, we had a very small class and we were separated by distance. The locals still stayed in touch with each other, while I and others who had left were a group unto ourselves. Billy was there and we chatted, drinking a beer or two, and we sparred in a friendly manner, each of us claiming to win.

Some events cast a long spell. I still remember the day in June 1951 the day before I landed in the Philippines. The ship I was on also transported Dependents and my duty was to deliver the ship’s newspaper to the dependent’s quarters. That day the paper had an article about the next days docking in Manila cautioning that anyone who was of Japanese’s descent to remain on board. The hatred of the Japanese was still rampant in the Island. Hatred dies slowly.

An acquaintance of mine fought in the Vietnam War and still contends that we would have won if the Administration allowed the Military to fight the war in the way they wanted to. We argue about it, stopping just short of saying things to each other that we would probably regret. Now of course we are deciding who is to be our next president and one of the candidates is also a Vietnam veteran. Like my acquaintance, he still wants to fight the war and win. He is also determined that we do not forgo the opportunity to win in Iraq. We all have our Seventh grades.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Red light

The bible forbids prostitution. The bible forbids most things. There are more don’ts than dos in the bible. The Calvinists for instance never smiled or sang or danced; it was not allowed and celebrating Christmas was banned. Somewhere in the bible, frivolity must be forbidden and somewhere in the bible there is a prohibition against the oldest trade. Yet prostitution exists in every culture and has existed in all times.

The state of Nevada legalized prostitution many years ago. As far as I know there has never been a problem associated with the business. I have seen pictures of the girls who work there and they all seem like nice young girls, not the kind of women whose photographs appear in the local paper whenever there is a raid on the red light district.

I don’t know if the pictures are purposely doctored to make the women look awful, but they generally look like they are down on their luck and not very attractive.
Numerous studies have been done to discredit legalization of the oldest profession.
You might wonder if the studies are purposely distorted by the people who control the girls and make all the money using women who are for various reasons down and out.

On a recent trip to Europe, we went to Amsterdam and as all tourists do, walked around the red light district. There in perfect display, in window after window on the first and upper floors are a variety of women, most are scantily clad, most young and pretty, but there is the occasional plump mature female. All tastes must be catered to. The tourist book mentions that the predominant country of origin of the customers is, surprisingly, England. Who would ever think the straight and fussy British would come all the way to Amsterdam for a day of fun and yet condemn the practice at home? The patrons of the Nevada girls are probably from out of state, visitors to Las Vegas or Reno perhaps, who likewise disapprove of prostitution at home. Not in my backyard is a strong sentiment.

The town near where I grew up had a brothel. When I was in high school a group of us went there and rang the door bell, but no one answered. We rang and rang and even shouted, but then realizing that disturbing the peace might attract the police we bade a hasty retreat. It was not legal of course but everyone knew the address and on occasion, there was what the police called a ‘raid’. The papers were replete with the story of how the police had cleaned up the town. But the brothel was in business soon after at the same address. For such a business it is too difficult to advertise a new location.

European cultures are generally more tolerant of the oldest profession. The British and we Americans, since we derived a lot of culture from the British, are determined to stamp out such behavior. But humans, being what they are, Amsterdam and the Bunny Ranch in Nevada are destined to enjoy a long life.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Doing Good

I enjoy reading the writings of Henry D. Thoreau, the New England writer who lived alone in a cabin in the woods along Walden Pond. He built the cabin himself for only several dollars choosing to use discarded material he got from the town dump or as gifts from the town’s folk.

When I was gainfully employed, the wife of one of my employees was pregnant with multiple births. They were both of an age when childbearing should probably not be considered and in addition he had a child from a previous marriage. But times being what they were and still are, she took fertility pills to increase the odds of pregnancy. Trouble soon appeared. Under doctors’ orders, she was confined to her bed for several months and under constant medication, to prevent a miscarriage. Still the babies were born too early. All had some degree of problems. Because of modern medicine, they survived but were kept at the hospital for several months before being sent home. The mother was fine.

The company had insurance of course and so they had no financial risks. I never knew the total amount of the bills, but they must have been nearing a half million.
After the babies were home and they had accepted the fact that one of them would have lifelong problems, I talked to the father about his family. He was happy that things were going as well as they were. He was somewhat annoyed that the county did not have a visiting nurse to come and help out families with multiple births. The children were quite a handful.

My mother had eleven of us spaced about one and a half years apart. She had no washing machine, no throw away diapers, no baby food and no family doctor to rely on. She was the sole care taker: washing, cleaning, feeding, dressing and otherwise caring for us. When there were five or so, the county provided a visiting nurse to come and offer advice and help with the children medically. Probably the doctor who delivered us talked to the county nurse and suggested it. Up to that time, all the children were of course born at home.

My mother was a strong willed person. She did not need help and was not happy to have the nurse come. However the nurse, wanting to help or just under county rules, continued to come offering advice and maybe some criticism on how to care for children, intruding, I am sure my mother thought, in how she was raising us children.
Finally, one fine day my mother waited by the front door and when the nurse appeared, she was summarily chased by an angry mother, broom in hand, shouting Polish expressions, until she was safely in her car. She drove away, never to reappear at my mothers’ house.

Henry liked to say that if he knew that someone was coming to his house with the intent of doing him good, he would run.

My mother chose to stay and fight. Henry, I am sure, would have been proud.

Friday, May 7, 2010


When I enlisted in the Air Force, my first haircut took about two minutes, no fuss no asking how I wanted it cut. The barber did not even say hello, just a bored ‘next’ when he was done. We all got the same haircut. When we were kids, whenever we got a haircut, everyone asked us if we had our ears lowered.

My sisters, we were Catholic, never went to church without a hat, except for evening choir practice; but for Sunday mass, hats were required. It was a no, no for women to enter the church without a hat. Men of course are required to remove their hats upon entering a church, or a mosque; for a temple a yarmulke is accepted. For men its hat in your hand when you enter the Lord’s house; a sign of humility.

But for some reason God does not like to see women’s hair.

Women and men react differently in regard to hair. Men have their hair cut when it gets too long, except if they are musicians or famous scientists, then they are allowed to let it grow long. Long haired musicians are considered great musicians and so we have the term long haired music.

On a serious note, women always shield their hair from God. It is interesting to note that Nuns, Islamic women and Eastern European women always cover their hair. My mother always wore a babushka when she went outside. Women of some Jewish sects wear wigs whenever and only when they go outside. God, who is all powerful, is foiled by a hat, scarf or wig, but indoors the roof suffices. In those sects the females will not wear a wig made in India for fear the wig may have been made from hair from females who are prostitutes. God would be furious if he knew he was being thwarted by a prostitutes’ hair. Maybe that explains why women spend so much time on their hair. Whenever we need a prohibition it is always directed at the women.

When I go to a barber, I like the fastest barber and the cheapest. Of course today even men are spending more time on their hair, what with dyeing and curling and of all things styling. But, women still spend an inordinately longer amount of time with their hair: frequent washing, curling, dyeing, drying, discussing with their friends who is the best hairdresser and their current hair style, which salon is the best, etc.

Why did such a custom originate? What is it about hair that is so different from other parts of the human anatomy? Skin is not treated the same.

I try not to find answers to these questions. God, I am sure, must like it this way.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Air Raid

I was just a young boy growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania during the Second World War. We often had air raid alerts. Several of our neighbors were air raid wardens. My best friend’s father was the designated leader. He wore a soldiers’ helmet and carried a flashlight and went from house to house and if he could see any light coming through the windows, he knocked on the door and warned you that your blinds were not pulled or some other light was on. No one was allowed to smoke outside since a lit cigarette could be seen for miles. Some of us, as all young kids would do, went outside during the drill, and searched the skies for the airplanes we supposed were definitely headed our way. On occasions, we actually thought we saw planes. Our necks were sore from searching the skies. After what seemed like a long time, the air raid leader sounded an all clear horn. Window blinds went up, lights were turned on and people came outside and talked and smoked and were glad that it was just an alert. The parents discussed the air raid and supposed that the planes were shot down out at sea or somewhere east of us. The excitement of the drill, never knowing if it was for real, was magnificent to us kids.

But to my knowledge, there was never an actual attack. The US government scheduled these drills for the duration of the war ending them when Germany surrendered.

All the adults, mostly immigrants from Eastern Europe, were glad that the drills were done, most of whom having gone through the First World War were glad they were only drills. They thanked FDR for his concern and careful planning.

It was only much later, when I grew up and was able to reflect on the logistics that I discovered that the drills were pure propaganda. There was not an airplane in the world that could have flown from Germany or Japan, dropped its load of bombs in Pennsylvania and returned home. The planes that were used to bomb Europe, flying from England, were barely able to traverse that round trip. It was just a rouse to scare the American people into supporting the war.

It sometimes reminds me of our current Homeland Security Department that continues to issue alerts with not a shred of verifiable evidence that harm is headed our way. They were just like the air raid alerts, another ruse to scare us and be thankful that the administration was doing their job.

Contrary to Peter, Paul and Mary the times are not a changing.

Monday, May 3, 2010


To quote Sir William Congreve (18 Century ): ‘music hath charm to soothe the savage breast.’ Or as the bible commands: make a joyous noise unto the lord. Take your pick. Music comes in a wide range of types: rock, country, pop, symphonic, opera, etc.

Of course from a physics point of view music is just noise, not different on an oscilloscope from a blast of pure random noise. Just listen to music from China or India or Japan or Peru or many other countries to get a taste of different forms of music. Music is generated by a wide range of instruments: piano, guitar, violin, flute and trumpet to name just a few and of course the human voice. Each type requires a great deal of practice and training to achieve great skill.

Some music is used for its snob appeal. Country music as an example is not considered to be on the same level as the symphony. Opera is of course the tops in vocal music. The opera singers train all their lives and we pay homage to the great tenors and sopranos accepting their huge egos. They live as Hollywood stars do: the Paparazzi following them relentlessly. Still they are technically not too different from the popular singers. The notable opera star Fredrica Von Stade remarked in a television interview that her singing was not any more difficult or required more training than popular singers; it was just a different form. Try that on opera buffs.

Of course country music is more visceral, more homespun, and easier to listen to and sing while taking a shower. The emotions expressed are sometimes a little silly, but so is the stuff of operas. The country musicians are perhaps not as technical as the symphonic artists, but the overall effect is pleasant. No country fiddler plays a Stradivarius. Pop music is somewhat the same, easy listening, and memorable. Some couples have a favorite song that they remember from their courting days and they call it their song.

Maybe music has both the charm to soothe the savage breast and to cause all of us once in a while to hum or sing a pleasant tune whether it is country, pop or an operatic aria, but its just noise if it doesn’t make our hearts beat a little faster.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Danny Boy

I am always intrigued by the Irish each March when ‘Saint Patty’s Day’ is celebrated. All countries have their own music or some distinguishing art form. The Irish of course, have their songs, their brogue and their playwrights. The English their literature-who can deny Shakespeare, the French their art, the Italians their Operas and sculpture, the Austrians their waltzes, the Poles their polkas, the Germans their Wagnerian music, and so the list goes on.

But of all the ethnic songs, I think the songs of Ireland are the saddest. Perhaps it’s because of the potato famine and the subsequent great migration to America, perhaps because of the oppression by the British, perhaps the rugged country. But certainly theirs is a culture of contrast. The Irish of course like to tip a few as they say, dance a jig or just confound you with their brogue, perhaps in an attempt to ease the burden of sadness.

In the anthracite region of Eastern Pennsylvania where I grew up, Irish immigrants worked in the coal mines along side the Poles, Germans, Italians, and other Eastern Europeans. In the evenings and especially during weekends, the neighborhood bars were filled with loud laughter, occasional brawls and always songs. It was often said that more coal was mined in the taverns at night than in the mines during the day. In addition to tipping a few, the Irish loved to sing. Singing would erupt spontaneously in the bars, usually late at night, near closing time. Songs like ‘I’ll take you home again Kathleen’, ‘Danny Boy’, ‘When Irish eyes are smiling’ and ‘Galway Bay’ could be heard almost nightly. All the ethnic groups joined in and the songs became great barroom favorites, except for Danny Boy. It was the saddest of all.

Calling someone a Danny Boy was considered a derogatory term. It referred to Irishmen who had forgotten their promise to some lovely colleen who stayed on the old sod, and waited for them to return, or send tickets to bring them to America. The men left, no jobs were available, and sailed for America where after a time they married Polish or Eastern European girls. They were not treated well by the Irish who had married their colleens or by the Poles or Eastern Europeans.

We lived for a time near one such family. When he tipped too many and was not able to report for work, the men said he was just a Danny Boy. Somehow people found out that he had promised to return to the old sod, but instead married a Ukrainian girl. A nice lady who often gave us treats. He was a frequent visitor to our house and told tales of how he was in training to become a doctor before he came to America. But he was shunned by the Irish contingent and could never fit into the Eastern European culture. The language barrier alone was difficult enough. After his wife died, and the children left, never to return, he tipped a few more than he should have and his life slipped away in drunkenness.

The Irish potato famine caused a great migration and many colleens grew old and died waiting on the old sod for their Danny Boys who never returned. They are the sad ones remembered in the song. But like my neighbor, there were perhaps an equal number of forgotten Danny Boys, never remembered in song, who also suffered in silence or tipped one too many.